• By: Dave Gross

Helping others makes Ottawa’s Higgins a true hall-of-famer

Here he is folks, Tim Higgins – Ottawa 67’s star, eventual first-round NHL draft pick (10th-overall, Chicago), roommate of Bob Probert’s (easily the most important detail), player of 706 regular-season games and another 65 playoff clashes, and yes, he is on his way to the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame.

After a long break due to pandemic limitations, the Hall opens its doors once again. This year’s ceremony is set for the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne Park on Sept. 27th. Tim will be there. So too will his family and countless friends.

But that’s not why I brought you out here today.

There’s a bit more – make that, a lot more – meat on the bone; the Tim Higgins Story.

So here we go.

Roughly 17 years ago, Tim came to the cold, hard truth about himself. Seventeen years ago Tim was sitting in the reception area chair at a local treatment centre for alcoholism. It had taken him months to get there, and without the help of his brother Pat and Tim’s boss at the time, Dale Tallon, Tim likely would have continued spiralling down the drain.

“I just knew I was done,” he said this week.

Tim was working as an amateur scout for the organization that originally drafted him – the Blackhawks. Tallon was the general manager and the man Tim reported to after his trips across North America and into Europe.

The Hawks knew Tim was struggling and his family, particularly Pat, knew too.

That’s the funny thing about addiction. Most of the people we hold close can tell we’re going through hell long before we realize it ourselves.

And we’re happy to tell you that nearly 18 years ago marked the last time Tim Higgins took a drink.

That’s triumph right there. But Tim took it even further.

Two years clean and sober and on the right path, Tim and his sponsor Pat decided to spread the wealth of health around. They cracked open an organization called Revitalize Lives.

Based in the Ottawa region, Revitalize Lives lent its hand to treatment centres in offering addiction counselling and family services. As hockey was quite obviously close to Tim’s life, the centre also offered up seminars to help young athletes look for early warning signs of addiction.

Tim gets it. Honestly, he gets it.

“What has sobriety given me? Good question. It’s given me things that are important to me.

“Five years (into) sobriety gave me (the chance) to walk my daughter Kristen down the aisle (at her wedding). It gave me the opportunity to be present and involved in their lives.”

And involved is the word. Tim enjoys, and I mean enjoys, a life rich with gifts: Strong, supportive, loving relationships with his three daughters (Kristen, Kelly and Lauren), and – as he says with a smile – joyful times with his seven grandkids.

“I was there. One hundred per cent there for the births of my seven grandchildren . . . You know, I would have missed that.”

Another gift arrived some three years ago when Tim met Jane, an absolute gem of a person and the heart of his hearts.

Shifting back to a dedication to doing service, Tim was a member of a men’s group several years back (through Rideauwood Addictions and Family Services) that eventually morphed into its own entity that’s carried on helping folks well into 2023.

“You know what it is? It’s that in the end you’re helping yourself by helping others.

“That’s what sobriety can give you.”

I ought to know.

I joined that group five years ago.

Here’s that story. Fresh off a two-month jaunt in treatment, I instituted a hefty dose of AA into my ‘program.’ One afternoon at a downtown meeting I peer across the folding chairs and see this large individual waving his finger at me with a big grin.

“I always wondered about you . . .”

Wonder no more, Tim.

(We knew each other from my days covering the 67’s).

Two weeks later I was there at the men’s group on the rocks near Westboro Beach enjoying the crosstalk and verbal jousting, and yes, the genuine care. Lots of sobriety there; loads of valuable experience at my fingertips.

As one of the group’s members put it: “You know what’s really cool? Eight guys sitting around outside by the water talking about real shit. Shit that matters.”

But I was one of the in-and-outers. One week, one month sober . . . then not so much.

I played that game until the realities of visiting hospital emergency rooms became too much.

Live or die? It was up to me.

About two years-and-change ago while I was struggling big time, Tim put it this way: “Lookit, I’m here to help you all you want and anytime you want. But in the end, when it really counts, you’re the one that has to make the choice. It’s your decision.”

June 29th, God willing, I celebrate two years of continuous sobriety.

Yeah sure, it was my choice. Without people like Tim Higgins though the choice wouldn’t have been on the table.

Great hockey player? No question.

Tim Higgins, my friend, is a whole lot more than that.